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NHL Teams Pledge Support for CWHL Counterparts!

November 13, 2012

Tremendous news out of the NHL! No, nothing about lifting the lockout and getting back on the ice, but both the Toronto Maple Leafs (Leafs news release) and the Calgary Flames (Flames news release) have announced their support for their corresponding local Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) teams, the Toronto Furies and the yet to be named Calgary-based CWHL club. This is a great step forward in providing female hockey players with a solid competitive league to play in once they have completed their college or university careers.

The league’s name is something of a misnomer, with players from several different countries on the rosters of the 5 clubs that comprise the CWHL, one of which is the US-based Boston Blades. The concept, however, is the same for all – somewhere to continue their hockey careers at a high level.  Although their predecessors were built on the same idea, the now defunct National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) and the Western Women’s Hockey League (WWHL) suffered from the same dilemma as many women’s sports – funding.

These women don’t make the big bucks to play hockey, they play hockey for the love of the game. Compensation is limited when you don’t have the high profile of the men’s game.  For those not playing college hockey, there is simply a dearth of top-level leagues in which to play.  This influx of financial support (which will also hopefully spawn similar support from the local NHL teams for the remaining CWHL clubs) will provide a stable base for the league.

One threat after the 2010 Olympics was that women’s hockey was in danger of being eliminated from the Games due to lack of competition. Not enough countries had development programs that would provide such competition and the sport should be removed until such time as the competition was more viable. A great deal of this has to do with the level of investment in the sport and in development worldwide.  Women’s sports, not only hockey, suffer from a lack of investment at the national level.

The former North American (NA) women’s pro soccer league has collapsed, taking with it the opportunity for NA players to continue their careers after college in NA.   A new league was formed shortly after the WPS dissolved, but those players are in a similar position to female hockey players. The elite level of sports tops out after college with small, low-stability leagues their only choice.

With the NHL’s support, the 5 team league may be able to not only survive, but thrive. There will be time to develop a fanbase, sponsorships and stable rosters. Affiliations with youth organizations may also flourish.  This can also be seen as a glimmer of hope for other countries that can take a similar path such that foreign stars may play in their own countries and help develop the sport there.  Its not that we don’t want to see them here in North America, its that their youngsters will benefit from seeing their own home-grown stars as well.

Kudos to the Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames for recognizing that these talented ladies need support to develop the game. Also note that there will be a free game at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday 17 November 2012 between Team Alberta and the Toronto Furies, with an autograph session with Leaf greats as well as former Canadian National Team stars. Who says there’s no hockey?

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